Penny Hardaway Inducted Into Magic Hall of Fame

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

By John Denton
Jan. 20, 2017

ORLANDO – Someday, Penny Hardaway’s body of work as a transformational point guard might earn him induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And someday Hardaway – now a head basketball coach at East High School in his hometown of Memphis – might get the championship that eluded him in college and in the NBA.

None of it, Hardaway said on Friday, will top his induction into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. After all, the Magic were the ones that believed in him first and the ones that provided him the stage to become an international superstar.

For all that, Hardaway said will forever be grateful to the Magic.

``They really did believe in me because they didn’t have to take me,’’ Hardaway said, referring to the controversial 1993 NBA Draft. ``Chris Webber had a bigger name and Shawn Bradley was more promising. But (the Magic) took a chance on me and it all worked out. So for this to come full circle for me, it’s just a blessing from God that has been poured upon me. That’s the only way that this could have happened.’’

Hardaway was inducted into the Magic’s Hall of Fame at the Amway Center and was scheduled to be honored by Magic fans during Orlando’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Hardaway, 45, is the fifth player inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame, joining legendary owner Rich DeVos, co-founder and Senior Vice President Pat Williams, former center Shaquille O’Neal and small forward Nick Anderson.

Hardaway played for the Magic for six seasons, helping the franchise reach the 1995 NBA Finals and the ’96 Eastern Conference Finals. Having former teammates Jeff Turner and Anderson, former coaches Brian Hill and Richie Adubato, current Magic executives Alex Martins and Williams and former GM John Gabriel on hand for Friday’s induction triggered a torrent of emotions from Hardaway, who said he had to fight back tears.

``Every time I come back here it brings back those memories,’’ said Hardaway, who has repaired things with the Magic since his messy divorce with the franchise in 1999. ``I haven’t come back a lot. I haven’t come to games in the past unless I’ve been invited, like for the 25th Anniversary and now. But hopefully this will jump-start me coming back and being around more. It’s home, really.’’

The Magic unveiled its inaugural Hall of Fame class in April of 2014, naming Williams and Anderson, the team’s first-ever draft pick and current Community Ambassador. In 2015, O’Neal became the third member inducted, while DeVos joined the Magic Hall last season.

The Magic Hall of Fame honors and celebrates the great players, coaches and executives who have had a major impact during the team’s illustrious 28-year history. The Hall bridges the past with the future of Magic basketball, and the exhibit provides Magic fans an opportunity to learn some Magic history while attending games at the Amway Center. The inductees are selected based on their on-court and off-court contributions to the team and the community.

No one deserves to go into the Magic Hall more than Hardaway, Williams and Anderson said on Friday. At 6-foot-7 and possessing great vision, Hardaway was a once-in-a-generational talent and the Magic were lucky to have him running their team, Anderson said.

``I’ve never said this, but I will go on record saying this: `Penny was like the little brother that I always wanted.’ I wouldn’t have missed this (Hall of Fame induction) for anything in the world,’’ said Anderson, who celebrated his 49th birthday on Friday. ``Being on the floor with (Hardaway), it eased my mind. When he went out of games and came back in, he was like a stress-reliever. He just made the game look so easy and he played it so smooth. At that (point guard) position, he just brought so much to the game.’’

In the time leading up to the 1993 NBA Draft, the Magic were uncertain about which player they would draft up until two days before the big night. It was then that Hardaway requested – and was granted – a second workout with the Magic. According to Williams and former teammate Jeff Turner, Hardaway was dominant and dynamic that day, convincing the Magic he was the point guard who could pair with O’Neal and take the fledgling franchise to the next level.

``The day before the draft Penny came back and went through a voluntary workout, which was unbelievable and we came away saying, `OK, Penny, we believe,’’ Williams said. ``The next step was making a deal with Golden State. We could have just taken Penny (with the first pick), but when the Warriors were willing to offer three first-round picks and they would take Penny at No. 3, we’d get the guy that we wanted, plus all of this help for the future.’’

Hardaway rewarded that faith by becoming the superstar point alongside of O’Neal, Anderson, Dennis Scott and later Horace Grant. In 369 games with the Magic, Hardaway averaged 19 points, 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.95 steals per game. Unlike O’Neal during his tenure in Orlando, Hardaway was universally thought to be the game’s best player at his position while he played for the Magic, twice being named All-NBA First team (1994-95 and 1995-96).

It was during that 1995 and ’96 seasons when the Magic were on top of the basketball world. With Hardaway and O’Neal, they had two transformational talents and they were thought to have a budding dynasty despite getting swept out of the NBA Finals by Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston in ’95 and out of the East Finals in ’96 by Michael Jordan and Chicago.

Then, like a magic trick gone wrong, all that promise disappeared. O’Neal defected to the Los Angeles Lakers, Hardaway hurt his knee and the team’s fortunes sagged. It is a time that Hardaway still looks back and wonders `what if?’

``Every time I watch the footage I just get tears in my eyes because there’s that, `what if?’’’ said Hardaway, who co-produced an ESPN documentary about the rise and fall of the Magic dynasty last year. ``If we all had just stayed together. Doing that (ESPN) 30 For 30, it helped ease some of the pain, but there’s still a lot of pain there.’’

Hardaway said there’s still pain and regret in his heart regarding his final two seasons in Orlando. He clashed with Brian Hill in 1997, taking part in a player revolt that led to the former coach’s firing. Hardaway said that he was touched that Hill attended Friday’s ceremony and he thanked the coach for coming up with the play designs that helped him reach his full potential.

Said Hardaway: ``It means a lot to me for (Hill) to be here because a lot of things got misconstrued back in the day. He was a huge part of my success in the NBA because he wrote those plays up for me to be successful. I took advantage of it with my talent, but he had the mindset to put me in position to win and he definitely gets credit for that.’’

Hardaway helped the Magic reach the playoffs in 1997 and 1999, scoring 40-plus points in consecutive games in a first-round series against Miami. However, following another first-round playoff exit in 1999 – after losing to Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers – Hardaway sought a fresh start and demanded a trade out of Orlando.

He said it’s a move that he still regrets today. And he said it was somewhat ironic that Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd was at the Amway Center on Friday night considering that he was the one who talked him into leaving Orlando for Phoenix back in 1999.

``First of all, I would have never left,’’ Hardaway said when asked if he would have done anything differently about his time in Orlando. ``That was just an emotional kid, just being spoiled and doing something outside my element and my norm. I usually try to fight through things that I didn’t fight through and I regret it to this day.

``And I wish I would have cherished more here because we had some super teams and I took it for granted,’’ Hardaway continued. ``I thought we’d be together for the rest of our careers. I never thought Shaq would leave and after that everything just fell apart.’’

Hardaway, who is famously known in Orlando for the game-winning assist to Horace Grant to beat the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals, also garnered world-wide fame while with the Magic for the Nike commercials he appeared in alongside of ``Lil’ Penny,’’ a cartoon character voiced by actor/comedian Chris Rock.

These days, however, Hardaway is known more for his highly respected abilities as a high school coach. Like many, he sees humor in the fact that he’s become a coach after a playing career where he often clashed with coaches because of his emotional nature.

Hardaway sees coaching as his way of making sure his incredible basketball vision lives on in the game. A successful coach of a nationally ranked high school team now, Hardaway said he could see a time where he coaches collegiately or even in the NBA.

He said he hopes that someday someone will believe in him as a coach the way that the Magic believed in him before the 1993 NBA Draft.

``I want to leave a mark on society,’’ he said. ``Basketball gave me an avenue to live my dream and I just want to help other kids live their dreams through me. Right now, I’m coaching and I enjoy coaching. I don’t know if it’s going to lead me to college or the NBA, but right now I’m very comfortable with the coaching aspect.

``My brain never stops thinking about basketball and even when I’m asleep, I’m thinking about basketball, he added. ``I love it, I love the Xs and Os and the preparation of it. So I’m enjoying it.’’

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